If you’re about to start a postgraduate course at university or college, you may be feeling slightly anxious about a number of things. It could be leaving the family home and moving to a new place, the weight of the course fees hanging over your shoulders, or the alienation concerns at being removed from family, friends and everything that's currently familiar to you.
Be assured that feeling anxious is a perfectly normal symptom of all that's going on in your life right now and that stress is a natural feeling which, in small amounts, can actually push you to work harder and deliver your best.
The signs of stress
Signs of stress show themselves in a variety of ways, usually dependent on your personality and typical coping methods.
Here are a few symptoms you might want to look out for:
- Irritability - are you more short tempered than usual and ready to pick a fight, but don't know why you're behaving in this way?
- Disturbed sleep - you may feel tired, overly tired in some cases, yet you still can't sleep? There's just so much noise in your head that you want to run away from it - only you can't
- Over eating or under eating - are you eating more than normal in an insatiable sort of way? Or do you feel full a lot of the time and almost too bloated to eat?
- Anxiety - does it feel like your heart is pumping through your chest with all that's going on and do you sometimes feel that you just can't cope?
As we mentioned earlier, so many of these symptoms are perfectly natural trigger responses to major life changes. You've picked up, moved away (and even if you haven't moved you've enough going on) and now you're about undertake some serious academic studies.
Is it any wonder you're feeling a little 'challenged'?
How you can help yourself
There are a number of things you can do to try to combat stress. None of these are rocket science, but they are designed to help you get to grips with how you're feeling and put some small actions in place that might help you feel better:
- Stay active - whether you go to the gym, go for a walk or take a plunge in your local pool, staying active can really help clear your mind. When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body. So even if you don't feel up to exercising at that very moment, there's every chance that, if you do, you'll feel better afterwards
- Eat well and cut down on alcohol - according to the NHS a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and limited alcohol is hugely important. So know your food and drink limits and research the food types that will offer you the most energy and nutrition. Check out the NHS'sguidelines on 'How to have a Balanced diet'
- Don't beat yourself up about things - if you miss an essay deadline or get a mark that's lower than you expected, it's not the end of the world. Talk to your lecturer instead of bottling it up and adding to your current stress levels. Listen to what they have to say and discuss what support is available to you in terms of both your learning journey and pastoral care. Talk to friends or family too, they'll be glad you've come to them
- Consider some form of relaxation class - whether its self meditation, pilates, yoga or listening to upbeat podcasts that target positive mindset, because grabbing a bit of downtime can be a great stress buster. If motivating podcasts are new to you, click here to see what all the fuss is about! They come highly recommended by the NHS, so there must be some merit in them!
Any university you attend will have a comprehensive student support system. Use it - it's there for you. There are usually counselling services run by Student Welfare Teams where you can talk to someone in absolute confidence about a range of issues from: study concerns, relationship issues, family traumas, loneliness, mental health, and even financial difficulties. If you need to talk, there's always someone around to offer an impartial, listening ear.
If you have a disability (you'll usually have told the university about this in advance), you'll discover a range of disability services too, where you can chat about reasonable adjustments that will help both your overall experience and academic achievements.
There are a host of student welfare facilities available to help everyone through what are often referred to as 'the best years of your life'!
What if you're not getting any better?
There's a difference between day to day stress and something more serious, like depression. If you feel you've tried to help yourself by following the suggested practices that the NHS recommends, then it may be time to make an appointment to visit your GP.
If your thoughts and feelings just aren't getting any better, to the point where they're beginning to impact on everyday life, it may be time to talk to a qualified practitioner.
Consider making an appointment with your GP (if you haven't registered with one where you are living, do it as soon as you can). Talk to them about how you're feeling and don't be embarrassed to be honest and open about the way you're feeling. They're there to help and not judge you - plus they've seen and heard it all before. Whatever you say it's unlikely to be a revelation to them!
Lastly, and according to mind.org, one of the UK's leading mental health charities, 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental health condition during their lifetime, so please don't be hard on yourself. Our minds are a complicated tool and there are a lot of determining factors which can add to our stress levels.
Just know that as you go through your student life there's a lot of support available. So you whatever you're going through, you don't need to go through it alone.
Here are a few helpful links: